Cruel purposes of the Ministry - Petition for Pardon - Mr. Salter's Escape - Cruel Act renewed - Last of the Donation - Solemn Covenant - Sorrowful Christmas - Court Martial - Another Hole - Great plan for a general Elopement - Arrangement of Escape - Plan put in execution - Wandering in the Fields - Lost - Limb out of joint - Surprise - Carried to Plymouth - Number escaped, 109 - How discovered - Punishment - A sorrowful New Year - Extreme Suffering - Good Friends - New Year's Gift - Not discouraged digging - Large Fleets - Captain Boardman escapes - A Reprieve for a Dog - Heavy Bounty for Prisoners.
DECEMBER 20. We learn, by the papers, that the ministry are resolved to carry on another campaign in America; and, if they can do nothing else, spread horror and depredation from one end of the continent to the other. They have a new mode for carrying on the war; as I believe they have given up all idea of conquering the country. They mean now, to destroy their seaports, and render the country of as little use to France as possible; but poor old England is in a deplorable situation, and this, I believe, will be her last dying struggle.
Thirty-one lords have drawn up a protest against this new system of war, to warn the public and to screen themselves from the evil that may fall upon those who persist in this inhuman and bloody conflict.
21. There has been no answer to the last petition that was sent to the Board; and to-day another petition was written and signed by a considerable number. This short allowance strikes such a dread upon a great number in this prison, that I am afraid it will frighten many, and induce them to go on board the men-of-war, who otherwise would have no thoughts of going. For my own part, I have received about a half a guinea for boxes, of late, but if I had not a farthing it would be equally the same, for as long as I can get provision enough to keep body and soul together, I shall prefer this prison to a man-of-war.
22. Last evening Mr. Salter made his escape from the officers' prison. Captain Boardman attempted it, but was discovered, and put in the Black-hole.
We learn, by the papers, that the high treason Act is again renewed; for how long a time, is uncertain.
23. To-day Mr. Heath came and served out the remainder of the clothes, that were left of the donation. I received only a pair of shoes. This is the last that we may expect from the donation, either in provisions or clothes, though we are allowed oatmeal to thicken our broth, and coals to burn; which are given, as I suppose, by private gentlemen.
24. It is two years to-day since we were taken. To-day a paper was drawn up in prison, to discover who and how many were of a side, and to hasten those who have a desire to petition, and to prevent petitioning hereafter; for we have reason to think it has already been of great damage to us. The contents of the paper were as follows
"We, whose names are hereunto subscribed, do, of our own free and voluntary consent, agree firmly with each other, and hereby solemnly swear, that we are fully determined to stand, and so remain as long as we live, true and loyal to our Congress, our country, our wives, children and friends, and never to petition to enter on board any of His Britannic Majesty's ships or vessels, or into any of his services whatsoever."
The above was signed by upwards of a hundred. I was one of the number. Some of the number that did not sign this, would not go on board of a man-of-war any sooner than those that did sign it.
25. This is Christmas, and a sorrowful one it is, though we had sent us, by our friends without, a fourpenny white loaf per mess, and a little cabbage. Little did I think, last Christmas, of being here now; neither did I expect, three months ago, to be here to-day. But all signs seem to fail; and it seems as though we were enchanted here. A third year of our imprisonment has begun.
26. We learn, by the papers, that Admiral Keppel is to receive a trial by court martial, for his behavior on the 27th of July last, in an engagement with the French fleet, off Brest. He is confined to his house, with two sentries at his door.
27. Sunday. At this time, we have a hole in hand, which we began near a month ago. This hole is dug down by the side of the prison, about nine feet perpendicular, and from thence it is dug about fifteen feet under ground, across a road; and our intention is to dig up into a garden on the other side of the way. A great quantity of dirt has already come out of this hole, and we have much trouble in concealing it. We have filled every hole and corner in the prison where we can with safety hide it, and a great many large stones are laid fore and aft the prison, in piles, under our hammocks, with old garments laid over them.There has been so many holes discovered of late, in this prison, that we are very cautious how we proceed with this. We work only when the militia are on guard, which is every other day, because they are not so suspicious and exact in searching, as the 13th regiment.
28. We have now got the hole almost completed, and mean to put our plan into execution to-night, and I hope God will be with us. Never did I know the true value of money until now; if I had four or five guineas, I could scarcely have a doubt of my liberty; but from the want of this I expect to be brought back again if I should have the good fortune to get out. While I now write, we are dividing ourselves into companies, to cast lots who shall go out first, so as to give every one an equal chance that intends to go; except three that dug the hole - they are to go first. I believe that nearly one half in prison intend to go, if possible; but I fear that but very few will get out before we shall be discovered, on account of their being four walls to get over, about eight feet high, each, after we get into the garden, and before we get into the road.
29. Last night we opened the hole and shut it up again, until about twelve o'clock. We then opened it again, and a man went out and opened a window in the first wall. We likewise chose two of the principal men in prison, that did not intend to go, to take the list of each company, and stand one upon each side the hole, to see that every man went out in his turn. It fell to my lot to go out in the first company, after those who dug the hole. I went through, and came to the first wall, where the window was open. Three more walls I had to get over, which were so high that I could just jump and catch the tops of them; all of which, we went over like greyhounds. Then six of us met and concluded to go together. We then ran back into the country until we judged we were two or three miles out of Plymouth, and in this manner we rambled about the fields, up hill and down dale, over hedges and through ditches, till we were lost and could not find the right road to Tinemouth, which was the town we meant to aim for, about thirty-six miles from Plymouth. Before we were lost, we walked about twenty miles, as we judged, backwards and forwards, through the fields. We then sat down by the side of a hill, till we were almost chilled to death. We then proceeded to a haystack, under the lee of which we lay until the day began to break, and it being cloudy, we could not discover the east from the west; so we wandered about till daylight, when we found the road to Tinemouth, and pressed forward till we came to a bridge, where, by the help of a milestone, we found, to our great surprise, that we were only three miles from Plymouth. At this bridge I pulled off a pair of trowsers, which I wore to keep my breeches and stockings clean, and threw them into the stream. We then pushed on two miles farther, in the road. By this time, the people began to stir about, and we concluded it was no longer safe to walk by daylight. We then took a cross road that led into the country, and travelled about a mile, and then cut across some fields, and went into a hedge, where we determined to lay till night, and then proceed on our journey. It was almost seven o'clock in the morning when we went into the hedge, and we lay there undiscovered, as we supposed, until an hour before sunset. All this time, we lay on the wet grass, and had nothing to eat or drink. We had only a penny loaf apiece, and that we meant to save to eat in the night following, and so travel all night; the next morning we expected to reach Tinemouth. About nine hours we lay in the hedge, wet, hungry, and almost chilled to death with the cold; lying all the time in one position, longing for the night to come. I went to stir one of my legs and a bone snapped and went out of joint, and as one of the company was setting it, about ten farmers, with a soldier, came upon us. One of them had a pistol, one a bayonet, one a flail, and ail the rest had clubs; we told them that we came into Plymouth in a prize, and were bound to Tinemouth. The country was alarmed, and we were taken. They carried us to a little village and gave us a good glass of brandy, and a half penny cake, apiece. We were then guarded by a sergeant of the militia, and about a dozen farmers, to Plymouth. We stopped on the road to get something to drink, but they would not let us stop to eat. We came to Plymouth in the evening, and some hundred men gathered round us and caused great confusion and excited a tumultuous broil. In this fray I lost my penny loaf. From thence we were brought to prison again, where we found that about thirty were taken before us, and the Black-hole was full; so that we were put in the long prison again. I was here informed that one hundred and nine men got out at this hole, and that it was carried on with the greatest regularity, till a boy went out who was unable to get over the wall, and he called for help, which alarmed the guard, otherwise, every man in prison might have got out, that had any inclination to do so.
30. Last night and to-day, about forty more were brought back, and those in the Black-hole taken out, and all put on half allowance.
31. To-day a number more were brought back, and those of us who are on short allowance, are divided into messes, eight men in a mess, all to sit down to a four pound loaf, and three pounds of beef, before it is cooked, a bowl of broth, and a little cabbage, which we have only every other day. To-day a mess of us joined together and bought a bag of potatoes, of fifteen gallons; for two shillings and ninepence, which will be of great service to us, on our forty days' half allowance.
January 1, 1779. This is a new year, and a sorrowful one it is, though our friends sent us a white loaf to every mess on full allowance, and would have sent one to those on half allowance, but our cruel agent would not let it come in. This so vexed us that we went and reasoned the case with him, and he at last consented to let it come in, if it was intended only as a new year's gift. We have also received greens, for four days past, instead of cabbage or peas, which is not half so good as either. We have to-day written a petition to the Board to see if they will grant us peas, and another, to see if they will favor us in regard to provision or time, while on half allowance. Two more men were brought back this afternoon. As yet, I have not got over my frolic. My knee is stiff where I put it out of joint. My hands are sore, being torn with burs. In short, I have not got a place about me the size of a halfpenny, but what is stiff and sore.
2. To-day we wrote a note to Mr. Heath, to let him know that Mr. Coudry had consented to let a loaf come in to each mess on half allowance, as a new year's gift. Also, to-day the agent served out shoes to almost every man in prison, except those on half allowance. We have received a letter from Portsmouth, which informs us that fifteen men had gone from that prison on board the men-of-war, last week, and that there are two hundred and thirty American prisoners there.
3. Sunday. In answer to the note we sent yesterday, to Mr. Heath, we received a white loaf to each mess on half allowance, and the generosity of our friends led them to send us a sixpenny loaf, which make our hearts glad.
4. Notwithstanding there are so many of us on half allowance, it does not discourage us from digging, for yesterday we began another hole, and last night it was unfortunately discovered.
This afternoon another man was brought back, who had got as far as Torbay, where he saw three hundred sail of vessels, in three fleets, one of which was bound to New York, one to Halifax, and the other to the West Indies, most of them with provisions, and some troops.
5. Last night, Captain Boardman made his escape from the officers' prison, and as there has been none brought back to-day, it gives us reason to hope, that those who are now out, will escape from this detested place. The number not yet returned is twenty-four, as eighty-five out of one hundred and nine have been brought back again.
6. This morning, I began to set myself up to sell bread, to enlarge the little amount of money I have, while on half allowance. I send out to the baker's and purchase by the dozen, and retail it out; by which means I realize twopence on a dozen. As necessity is the mother of invention, so necessity obliges me to take every honest method to get a penny, especially at this time, when we have greens, or cabbage as they are called, instead of peas, but unworthy of the name of either, for it is more like kelp than cabbage, and it is not fit for any human being to eat.
7. To-day a gentleman came to the gate and gave in a crown, to be divided among ninety of us in prison, who are on half allowance. This crown gains a reprieve for a dog, which keeps in the yard and belongs to some of the officers on guard. This dog we are resolved to kill and eat, in a few days, as necessity will oblige us to do so. This evening two more men were brought back, who went out on the 28th of December. They were taken about forty miles distant, at a place called Exmouth. There are now only twenty-two out, as eighty-seven have been brought back. We are told that five pounds a head is given for every one that is taken up; if so, it has cost government four hundred and thirty-five pounds for the eighty-seven, that are brought back.